Home » What Are The Best Engines You’ve Experienced? Autopian Asks

What Are The Best Engines You’ve Experienced? Autopian Asks

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What makes an engine great? Horsepower might be the first thing that comes to mind – no surprise there. Certainly a great engine is a reliable one – can’t discount that. And when it’s time for maintenance, those of you who do your own wrenching surely assign additional greatness points to engines that don’t make you remove a chassis crossmember to access the oil filter. And then there’s smoothness, throttle response, and sound. And what the heck, let’s add “looking cool” to the engine-greatness checklist. It’s not a box everyone is concerned about checking, but if you like looking at engines, cooler-looking ones are better. So let’s hear it:

What are the best engines you’ve experienced?

[Editor’s Note: Torque curve and ability to handle more power are also key. I’m going to say that the AMC straight six and, surprisingly, the VM 425 diesel in my Chrysler Voyager have been the best engines I’ve experienced. (I’ve also loved the Chrysler Slant-Six “Leaning Tower of Power” and the Australian “Hemi Six,” but I haven’t driven those as far. -DT]

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Autopian Answers Transp

Last time around, we asked you what car you would never buy again. The answers included Mercury Monarchs and minivans, Explorers and Eagles and Elantras, BMWs and Buicks. But the heat a few of you had for Volkswagen really jumped out, especially as you were talking about newish and relatively low-mile cars. Most notably, here are Nsane In The Membrane and staffma with their Very Woeful tales:

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Thanks in advance for your comments, we’ll do it again tomorrow!

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Zeppelopod
Zeppelopod
1 year ago

“Best” will look different to every person. The stoutness of a Subaru flat-6, the cleverness and ingenuity of the Voltec drive, or the tunability of a Mazda 4-cylinder are all great aspects of the powertrains I’ve owned.

But “best” in the Autopian sense, of fostering an emotional connection with the car? I might have to give it to the Renesis from my old RX-8. I test drove everything from 350Zs to Mustangs to S2000s to the then-new Camaro before I bought it and the engine was so much weirder and more interesting than any of the others.

Was it the “best” from a numbers perspective? Hell no. Similar output to the S2000’s engine but vastly inferior reliability and fuel economy does not a “best” engine make, especially for one with the unfortunate timing to be released in 2004 right before the horsepower war lit its booster rockets.

But gawddawn was it fun to drive. It sounded and felt like nothing else. The tremulous idling warble, the way it would zing straight up to high revs quicker than any of its piston foes, even the annoyances like warming it up properly and revving it each time you started it – they all combined to make the car feel more like a living thing than anything else I’ve owned. It was the kind of car you left a psychic impression on because somehow it felt more “real” than the ostensibly-better, assuredly-faster 350Z or S2000 rivals. I loved those cars too, but the RX8 felt like a driving partner.

Spectre6000
Spectre6000
1 year ago
Reply to  Zeppelopod

Seconded. Came here to say 13B. The MSP gets a lot of flak, but the Series 2 version was especially good, and even somewhat reliable. Rev to the moon, responsive, and uniquely playful; the fast it turns, the faster it WANTS to turn (have to drive it to understand). Smooth as silk. I’ve never driven a car that made illegal highway speeds seem so slow and mundane. Rivals BMW in that regard, and I’d suggest surpasses most.

Last edited 1 year ago by Spectre6000
Zeppelopod
Zeppelopod
1 year ago
Reply to  Spectre6000

Mine was a 2004 (in Nordic Green Mica, no less!) and even without all the improvements they made to the S2, it was still a hell of a car. I credit that car for getting me into proper gearheadedness.

Ironically, even though 232/149 sound like miserable output numbers today, that was one of the fastest feeling cars I’ve ever driven. More powerful cars certainly exist but the RX8 could foster driver confidence better than anything else I’ve experienced. Eventually sold it before a deployment because it felt like it was too much car for my limited skills, and I wanted to improve in something slower.

Col Hathi
Col Hathi
1 year ago

The Toyota 3.0L D4-D diesel. It’s a tireless workhorse, and powers everything from a Hilux to an LC Prado where I come from. I own 2 vehicles with different capacities of the same engine (2.4 litre on an Innova minivan, and 3 litre on the Fortuner). Both have crunched 500,000 miles between them, with no hiccups so far.

The engines are torquey, and chippable. There’s a mild clatter at idle when the engine is cold, but it’s surprisingly quiet for a diesel once it gets going.

Parts are cheap, and because the engine has been around for nearly 20 years in India in these two forms, the always excellent Toyota dealer network is well-trained to trouble-shoot.

AlfaWhiz
AlfaWhiz
1 year ago

Alfa’s Busso V6 of course. Be it in 12 or 24v form, it’s excellent.

Brynjaminjones
Brynjaminjones
1 year ago

I’ve got to give my vote to the Jeep 4.0.

We have four of them in the family with a combined 550k miles. The highest has just ticked over 190k.
Engine wise, they have never given us any trouble at all, and despite now spending most of my time driving a newer, nicer vehicle, I just prefer the characteristics of the old 4.0.

The torque curve is great, and they’ll chug along happily at just above 1,000 rpm. I think they make a great sound too when you want to push harder.

Only one of our four has even ever had its valve cover off, and that was only to replace a gasket at 180k miles.

That same engine once went 35,000 miles without an oil change, and has been quite heavily overheated. I once drove several hours home running so hot that it turned it’s oil seemingly into water. It also had to put up with the abuse of a younger me – I remember practicing my “drifting” by pinning my foot to the throttle in a field for 45 minutes, with the heater on high to stop it overheating again. 9+ years later and there still don’t seem to have been any consequences.

They aren’t perfect – I’ve had to replace a few exhaust manifolds and two of them have finally needed a CPS at 150k+ miles, but they’ve been overall very low maintenance.

My runner up is the Nissan VK56VD that we had in a rental Infiniti QX80. The direct injection made it sound like a diesel, but it had a fantastic torque curve and had plenty of power when you wanted.
I really preferred it to the GM 6.2 L92 that we currently own in a 2007 Escalade.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 year ago

Mercedes had a good run in the 1970s and 1980s. The 6.9L v8 in the 450SEL was notoriously epic. And the final gen v8 in the 560SL (and the subsequent 560SEC if I’m not mistaken) is smooth and mean if you want it to be.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 year ago

Boring? Yeah. Awesome? That too. Honda’s 3.5L V6 VTEC from the 2000s. It will survive our sun as long as you change the oil and belts every once in a while. It takes a heavy RDX or an accord body to 60mph with alacrity and decisiveness. It merges onto Los Angeles freeways without fear. And it passes or loses that lane-splitting asshole in the lowered ’96 3 series that’s tailgating your butt like it’s trying to pin the tail on the donkey.

And it will do all that for. Ever.

Last edited 1 year ago by Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Pappa P
Pappa P
1 year ago

It’s definitely a great engine.
That being said, it will certainly not do those things forever, because it’s generally mated to a glass transmission. I believe the cams were belt driven as well.
So, with a few grand of upkeep, yes it would do those things forever.
Still great engine though.

415s30
415s30
1 year ago

I like my L24

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
1 year ago
Reply to  415s30

The L28E is also good! Hopefully it’ll be even better with an LD28 crankshaft 😉

The Nissan L inline 6 are wonderful little things. Seems like they just refuse to quit, which makes sense when you consider they are way understressed given their hp/displacement ratio, their forged crank and rods and the fact that the L28 was literally powering a 4*4 that was closer to a tractor than a passenger vehicle.

Also they just look good!

Last edited 1 year ago by Manuel Verissimo
DDayJ
DDayJ
1 year ago

From personal experience (ownership or rental). Good:
BMW N55
BMW M54
BMW B48
JEEP 4.0
GM 3800
Whatever the newer Volvo T5 is
Saab 2.3T

Bad:
GM Quad4 (SOHC version)
GM Iron Duke
Ford 4 Liter. Cologne I think?

So so:
Entire GM 60 degree V6 family
Entire GM High Feature V6 family

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
1 year ago
Reply to  DDayJ

I can vouch for the M54B30. That torque curve is wonderful and the sound is great without being obnoxious. It’s decently reliable (only had to change the thermostat after over 100000mi including 4 years worth of trackdays) and fuel economy is OK for a motor with over 230HP.

Bonus points for the top plastic cover which looks good compared to the shit every manufacturer puts out nowadays.

Last edited 1 year ago by Manuel Verissimo
DDayJ
DDayJ
1 year ago

Yup! I have 177k on a ZHP M54B30. It’s taken a lot of abuse and still runs great. The oil leaks are annoying, but that’s standard BMW stuff.

DOHCtor
DOHCtor
1 year ago

I really loved Mazda’s 2.5l KL-DE i’ve had in my 1995 626. Smooth as butter, rev happy 8k rpm screamer. Was mated to a fine 5 speed manual transmission too so it helped.

Recently, i must say that Honda’s K24Z7 in my 472k km 2012 Civic Si has been nothing but bliss. Ample torque, decent power and fuel economy and another staple of automotive dependancy.. Just love it.

Also, even if i’m about to get flamed for it, i will always have a special place in my heart for Chrysler’s 2.0l DOHC in my neons. Not the most refined or reliable engine but with the proper bolt ons, it definitely screamed. And that valvecover i think was beautiful. But, just like the Civic however, i think that it’s a proper engine that’s held back by a somewhat inferior transmission.

Eddie Aftandilian
Eddie Aftandilian
1 year ago

My favorite was the original Nissan VQ30DE that debuted in the 1995 Maxima. It was incredibly smooth and powerful, especially for the time. I owned two VQ35 variants after that — the 240 hp version in the 2002 Altima and the 306 hp VQ35HR (“high rev”) — but neither was as smooth as that original 3.0 liter.

Chris Hoffpauir
Chris Hoffpauir
1 year ago

The smoothest V8 I ever owned was an Olds Rocket 350.

Tommy Helios
Tommy Helios
1 year ago

I have little experience with fun and fast as my German blood demands practical and reliable, so my boring list:
VW Mk1-3 gas and diesel i4s, the aba was the best of them all
VW vr6, best bark barely any bite
Gm 3800
Ford 300 i6
Gm LS

Have taken every single motor on my list to the moon, more than a few have made the trip back as well.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
1 year ago

I will name a few. First, the BMC A series. I had a 1275cc Sprite with some mods, including a shaved head and a hot cam. It would smoke malaise era V-8s and various 2 liter sports cars.

Triumph 2.2 liter in my TR4A. It would start in below zero temps and had wonderful grunt and torque after owning a few Sprites and an MGB.

Lastly, the SR20DE from my first generation Sentra SE-R. Up to that time most modern performance four cylinders made power at high revs, but had nothing down below. The SR20DE made oodles more torque than a Civic SI motor, and stilled pulled strong up to its 7500 RPM redline.

Honorable mention to the smooth revving dorito in my RX7. It just didn’t feel stressed at all when you revved it, but it did crap out with low compression at about 120,000 miles.

Ron888
Ron888
1 year ago

Damn you Autopian! How can i ever get stuff done when you’re doing such interesting articles?

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
1 year ago

The BMW M50 non-Vanos, known to enthusiasts as the M50B25NV. Produced from 1991-1992, it was BMW’s first modern straight 6 with a DOHC layout. It was made in a time before the bean counters got involved, so it was incredibly overbuilt for the merely 189hp it generated from its 2.5L displacement. It has a sturdy iron block with thick connecting rods and double valve springs— people regularly boost them past 500whp with nothing more than an upgraded head gasket.

In my own experience, it’s an incredibly reliable engine if you just leave it naturally-aspirated. I’ve had multiple BMW’s with well over 200k on these engines. My last 92 525i I bought with 267k miles on the original engine, and I got that car to 312k miles before I totaled it (by rolling the car). Even after the engine ran upside down for a bit it was fine, so I put it in my next car, and have put 16k miles on it since then. That motor now has 329k miles on it, which includes a lot of canyon driving, 6 hard track days, and just generally beating on the engine in the Arizona summer (115ºF+). I’ve intentionally over-revved it at the track to get past the stupid 6500 RPM rev limit without any harm, these engines will do 7500+ without any issues.

SK2807
SK2807
1 year ago

Ford Barra.

Reliable, heaps of torque, will do 400,000 ks with barely an oil change and in turbo form will see big power on stock rods….and then well over 1,000hp at the rear wheels if done properly.

Echo Stellar
Echo Stellar
1 year ago

Toyota 4.7 2UZ-FE V8, as seen in the first gen Tundra. Great sound and power and the one in the family remains strong and unbreakable after 23 years and 234k. Small problems here and there, and yes a domestic (or German?) moment by Toyota engineers when they put the starter in the valley. Otherwise, it’s nostalgia-inducing with all of these turbo V6s. The newer 4.6 1UR isn’t close in overall greatness.

FlavouredMilk
FlavouredMilk
1 year ago

I’m closing in on a decade in the automotive trade, which I was expecting to make answering this easier, but it actually makes it harder because of how damn large the range is. I’ve cracked on in everything from Suzuki Mighty Boys to Bentley Continentals.

But I think I’ll have to stick to my guns and say the B6/BP range in the Mazda MX-5s. My NA has dealt with me for the last 8 years, which is definitely something you could call a stress test and though, through my own failings, I did spin a big end bearing in the original engine, I was able to essentially throw a second hand used engine straight at the car, strap ITBs and a Haltech to it and hit the streets within a few weeks.

They’re strong, easy to work on, easy to modify and juice for power, they were used in a bucket full of 90’s Mazdas and Fords and even with neglect and abuse they’re always punchy and smooth, also bonus points for not using some complicated balance shaft assembly. They’re just so good for how basic they are.

Other contenders are the Holden 304/308 and the absolutely bulletproof Chev Small and Big Blocks, absolutely love the rumble of an old-school V8 and the Chev motors have found their way into an unfathomable amount of cars they were never intended to.

Gubbin
Gubbin
1 year ago

Datsun L16 – my first and second vehicles were Datsun 521 pickups and that dear little SOHC beastie just kept going despite my wrenching.
Suzuki 650 90° V-twin – I’ve had a V4 and a couple different 45° V-twins but an SV650 has torque in all the right places and that raucous Ferrari-esque growl.

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
1 year ago

This is actually harder to answer than I thought it would be.. I love the sound of my lopey 4.6 in the Mustang but I also loved the exhaust on the 1.4T Abarth, I love the torque and boost from the Cummins in my work truck but I also love the slow inefficient 360 in my old Dodge. I love a bridgeported rotary as much as I love a roots-blown V8… I think I just like engines in general.. what was the question again?

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 year ago
Reply to  Cool Dave

The Abarth is the best-sounding 4cyl out there. First time I came across one, I figured it had an aftermarket exhaust and wow what is it/it’s wonderful. I was blown away to eventually find out it came from the factory.

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
1 year ago

Pretty much every Mazda four-cylinder I’ve had was an absolute sweetheart, and I’ve had quite a few: an ’84 2.0 liter MA in a B2000 pickup, an ’89 2.2 liter F2 in a Ford Probe, a ’91 1.6 liter B6 in a Miata, an ’02 2.0 liter FS in a Protege, and a 2.3 liter MZR/Duratec in a Focus. All were smooth, rev-happy, and had a good sound. All burned a little oil, but nobody’s perfect.

And of course, I love my BMC B-series. It’s a gruff little thing, but it has lots of torque and it’s dead-easy to work on.

Chrysler’s 5.7 liter Hemi is growing on me rapidly. I like that it can be so docile when you want, and wake up when you step on it. And again, it sounds great.

Yngve
Yngve
1 year ago

2015 Ram 5.7 Hemi.

Aside from the relatively common exhaust stud issue (which started at around 100k miles, and was finally fixed at 120k), I have had zero issues with this engine (or the rest of the drivetrain) with normal maintenance. Dead reliable and ~17-20 mpg on the highway depending on wind direction (only slightly worse than the 1.6l turbo Nissan Juke that it replaced), with enough HP and torque to power through desert sand and deep winter snow, and haul both home reno crap and a 19′ camper with minimal effort.

Sounds bad ass, too.

Paul E
Paul E
1 year ago

In my youth? 383 Chrysler — there’s no substitute for a big block Mopar.

Recent great motors I spent years with but no longer have: Toyota 1UZ in a couple different Lexus LS400s, that I put a few hundred thousand miles on: Buttery smooth, nearly bulletproof-reliable, ran strongly, especially when wound out.

Right up there with it, and my current V8 fave/daily: Jaguar’s 4.2 V8, as found in the X350 XJ8s, in either N/A or supercharged flavor. Very robust, very smooth, far more reliable than Jag V8s before or after that.

The all-time fave: Saab’s turbo motors, be they in the old 2.0 or later 2.3 liter flavors. Sturdy motors that just go and go, with pleasant power delievery, handling significant levels of boost right out of the box, and capable of going massive distances. The early 16V 2.0T motors make a distinctive exhaust note, especially in classic 900s. I’ve done a good million miles plus in the seat of a Saab over the years, and keep a few of them around.

davesaddiction - Long Live OPPO!
davesaddiction - Long Live OPPO!
1 year ago

I’ll never forget the feels and sounds of the S65 in my E90 M3 (now owned by my brother).

RIGHT NOW throttle response, 8600 RPM redline (with tune), and the soundtrack of the gods. No other car I’d rather crack off a rev-matched downshift in (preferably prior to a 20 mph rated corner on some lonely back road). Was very much at home on track as well.

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
1 year ago

The options on this are limitless because it all depends on what I am looking for out of a specific need.

Like, I love both the 12-valve Cummins and the GM 6.2l diesel and I have owned and been happy with both but if those engines swapped trucks/purposes I would hate them both.

Some favorites:

  • 377 SBC with 6″ rods and high runner heads; must underrated small block setup is amazing.
  • 6.2l diesel in a Blazer, 1/2ton PU, or b-body GM; gear it right and you are looking at 30+ mpg from a useful truck or land yacht.
  • 22RE, but in a CJ5 or earlier Jeep…
  • R-985 Wasp Jr.
  • 4.5L stroker.
  • Mopar B 383/400 because they fit more places better.
  • Really, any Mopar wedge motor because the Hemi ain’t all that…
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